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Offline digital library & student records on a phone

Ustad Mobile’s app turns any Android phone into a wireless offline digital library server for nearby devices and a school record system.

Photo of Mike Dawson
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Organizations delivering education in emergency situations need a very low cost, sustainable way to deliver content, track usage, and maintain school records. The Afghanistan Ministry of Education budget is just $100/year per child, including teacher salaries, books, and buildings. In Jordan that budget is just $300/year per refugee child. This compares with approx $10,000/year per child in the USA. Importing special hardware (e.g. Raspberry Pis) is expensive and logistically challenging.

Explain your innovation.

Peer to peer offline content distribution with no WiFi network or extra hardware needed: The Ustad Mobile app can enable users to both experience learning content completely offline and share content with any device nearby. A device can be loaded with content by: -Downloading the content from the Internet when available. -Copying the content to an SD card. -Downloading the content offline from any device running the app nearby. The app uses a tested combination of WiFi direct and bluetooth techniques that allow it to discover content on devices nearby running the app - automatically and without needing to be connected to any network. We use standard content formats (including EPUB, TinCan and SCORM) so existing content can be easily reused offline. For teachers who don’t have a smartphone, the app supports most content on Java enabled feature phones. Automatic recognition of paper school records: The Ustad Mobile app can automatically recognize paper attendance records and many forms of grade records. Teachers can simply snap a picture of the paper records using just one phone per school at the end of the day and the records are instantly digitized. This is particularly useful in situations where students may move and school records may be needed by the next school.

Who benefits?

Direct beneficiaries: Up to 200K teachers in Afghanistan and 96K in Lebanon who will have access to lesson plans and teacher training content. Female teachers who find it more difficult to work longer hours after school due to transport and cultural issues will gain by having access to materials that they can use anytime, anywhere. Having trained female teachers is key to improving outcomes for girls where parents often object to female students, especially adolescents, being taught by male teachers. Indirect beneficiaries: -Students will benefit from improved teaching. The PRIMR programme in Kenya (2012) studied the cost of increasing learning outcomes using mobile devices. It was found to be ten times more cost effective to give devices to teachers rather than directly to students. -Organizations providing education in emergency settings will be empowered to deliver quality content directly to teachers and possibly to students (via parents’ phones) without extra hardware.

How is your innovation unique?

Peer to peer offline content sharing without a wireless network: There are many projects that have developed software to serve devices offline using a local Wi-Fi network. These projects always require additional hardware and often learning content can only be used when within range of the local Wi-Fi network. Our app uniquely uses the Wi-Fi direct standard and bluetooth to manage temporary connections directly between devices, avoiding the need for any new hardware. Devices download content locally so learners can continue learning later anytime, anywhere. Server on a phone: Many Learning Management Systems (LMS) are built from the ground up with an assumption that connectivity is established. Our sync model enables a device to sync with a central school phone and resume syncing with the cloud or another device from where it left off. Automatic paper record recognition: Our app can recognize paper records for real time statistics reporting using just one phone per school.

Tell us more about you.

Ustad Mobile is a social enterprise building an offline app for better education. Our app has been used in various USAID and DFID funded projects. - Mike Dawson: Mike has 9 years of experience in edtech in emergency settings; most of those in Afghanistan. - Varuna Singh: Varuna has 6 years of software development experience including 4 years in edtech for low resource settings. - Benita Rowe (Australian): Benita has 10 years of experience in teaching and education project management.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Afghanistan: The country has seen a rapid increase in the number of students in school from the low 100,000s (almost all boys) in 2001 to just under 10 million (40% girls) today. Yet 58% of teachers do not have the minimum required qualifications. Studies have found education outcomes are below those of neighboring countries. Lebanon: Lebanon is now home to over 1 million refugees from Syria forcing schools to teach in two shifts. Last year 250,000 refugee children were out of school.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Afghanistan: We will package teacher training resources and lesson materials through our Afghan registered company. We will work to improve access to materials with the Ministry of Education, NGOs and through media (social, television and radio). Lebanon: We have partnered with the NGO Lebanese Alternative Learning who developed the Tabshoura curriculum, an interactive Lebanese primary school curriculum in English, French and Arabic. We will convert the existing content from Moodle.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Afghanistan: Mike has lived in Afghanistan for 8 years. We have an Afghan company registration and a wide network of contacts in the education sector. We are a supplier to the main USAID higher education project. Lebanon: We have partnered with a Lebanese Alternative Learning (a Lebanese NGO) who have developed a digital interactive curriculum. Lebanese Alternative Learning works with the Ministry of Education and World Vision amongst others.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Ustad Mobile’s app was originally created in Afghanistan and has been used by USAID and DFID funded projects in Afghanistan, India, Ghana and Nigeria amongst others. Our mobile literacy for policewomen project was featured on BBC news here . Our app has been used by parent shuras in northern Afghanistan for literacy education, by teachers for reporting results, and by higher education students learning employability skills.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered for-profit company (including social enterprises).

Organization Location

Dubai, United Arab Emirates



Join the conversation:

Photo of Ronda Zelezny-Green

Have been a fan for years. This is the real deal and unlike the many edtech charlatans out there!!!

Photo of Mike Dawson

Thank you for your confidence in us, Ronda!

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